ABOVE, from left to right Fellowship creator Mark Lisagor, D.D.S., fellowship recipients Desireé Caldera and Kaylena Mann, fellowship creator Terri Lisagor, Ed.D.

From left to right Fellowship creator Mark Lisagor, D.D.S., fellowship recipients Desireé Caldera and Kaylena Mann, fellowship creator Terri Lisagor, Ed.D.

By Kim Lamb Gregory

Computer Science major Desireé Caldera excelled with her research into cybersecurity during the Summer Undergraduate Research Fellows (SURF) program, and Psychology major Kaylena Mann did an outstanding job with her research into psychological testing. As a result, both SURF researchers were awarded a Lisagor Fellowship, which comes with $1,000. But the creators of the Fellowship, Mark Lisagor, D.D.S and Terri Lisagor, Ed.D., believe there are rewards from the research process itself that will last a lifetime.

“Research awakens their excitement and gets them involved in something they may not have even known they could do,” said Terri, a Professor Emeritus of Nutrition and Food Science who recently retired from CSU Northridge. “Research doesn’t give them answers but helps them discover the tools to find those answers. The feeling of ‘I can do it.’ It’s powerful.”

The couple launched the fellowship because of their desire to support undergraduate research. 

“All of this triples up in the pursuit of their careers,” Mark said. “That’s what jobs are about right now: critical thinking and collaboration. These are tools that will serve them so well in the job market.”

Caldera’s research involved helping to create an online cybersecurity testing platform for small businesses in Ventura County that would enable them to test their Information Technology networks and infrastructure.

“The whole eight weeks of SURF and the project challenged me as a student and my abilities as a Computer Science major,” Caldera said. “It was rewarding and I can definitely say I cried when I found out I won the fellowship. It meant a lot to be recognized as a woman of color in computer science.”

Caldera and her fellow researchers worked in an environment similar to that of a high-tech startup company. It was created by her faculty mentor, Assistant Professor of Computer Science Reza Abdolee, Ph.D., based on his experience in the computer industry. 

“This was a great opportunity for students to learn different technical and communication skills required in the job market and industry,” he said. “Desiree learned numerous key skills and showed determination that helped her succeed with this project.”

The Lisagor Fellowship award was on top of the $3,000 stipend each received after being chosen for the eight-week summer program by the 15 SURF faculty mentors.

“Kaylena’s project was about test fairness, especially how some of the wording in a psychological test for social anxiety can be potentially biased against the LGBTQ respondent,” said Assistant Professor of Psychology HyeSun Lee, Ph.D., Mann’s faculty mentor. “She found wording that suggested stereotypical sexual roles.”

Mann said the experience boosted her confidence overall. 

“Research is all about making that leap into unknown territory, which can be scary, especially when evaluating a newer topic,” Mann said. “I have never been confident in my own choices, but this research experience pushed me to finally trust myself.”

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© Fall 2021 / Volume 26 / Number 2 / Biannual

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